“The basic issue remains the resolution of the border. What we see is that China’s intent or attempt has been to keep the boundary issue alive. What we need as a country is a `whole of nation’ approach to address this issue in its entirety,” the Army chief said.
“In the military domain, this is to prevent and counter any attempt to alter the status quo at the Line of Actual Control (LAC),” he added, speaking to a group of journalists at South Block.
India and China had committed to clarification and confirmation of the 3,488-km LAC through various bilateral agreements since 1993, which would reduce face-offs till a final border settlement could be achieved. But even this process has come to a grinding halt after 2003 due to China’s recalcitrance.
Asked by TOI about the persisting deadlock in troop disengagement at Patrolling Point-15 in the Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongka La area, Charding Ninglung Nallah (CNN) track junction at Demchok and Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh, Gen Pande said Indian troops “continue to hold important positions” and there are “adequate forces available to deal with any contingency”.
“Our guidance to them has been to be firm, resolute and prevent any attempt to alter the status quo. Our aim and intention is to restore the status quo ante, as it existed in April 2020,” he said.
While the Army chief said China has to do more because the process to “establish trust and tranquility between the two sides cannot be a one-way affair”, he expressed the hope that the “remaining friction points” in eastern Ladakh would also be resolved through the ongoing diplomatic and military dialogue. “The good thing is we are continuing to talk and engage with each other. It’s the only way to resolve it,” he said.
The Army has carried out a major rebalancing of forces and firepower to the LAC with China over the last couple of years as well as worked to mitigate the threat to the Siliguri Corridor and other vulnerable areas.
“My first and foremost challenge is the current situation along the northern borders. It’s important for us to constantly review the threats and come up with capability development plans,” Gen Pande said.
Towards this end, the Army has gone in for a major upgrade in ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) technologies, logistics and border infrastructure along the LAC. “Induction and incorporation of new technologies is part of the ongoing capability development,” the Army chief said.
On the ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict, Gen Pande said supply chains of certain spares and ammunition for the Indian military have got “impacted to some extent” but there are “adequate stocks to last for a reasonable period of time”.
“We are also looking at certain alternate mitigation measures, identifying alternate sources from friendly foreign countries. This is also an opportunity for the Indian private industry to step up production and meet our requirements,” he said.
An important lesson learnt is the continuing “relevance of conventional wars”, which could be prolonged, and not necessarily short and swift. “Moreover, we need to become more self-reliant and decrease our dependence on foreign arms,” Gen Pande said.
“Non-contact or non-kinetic warfare”, including the military use of cyberspace, is another important lesson. “We have seen how the battle of narratives has been used to gain advantage over the adversary. We need to increasingly focus on these new domains of warfare,” he said.